Stimulating the Taraba Agribusiness Sector.

 by Zanau Hassan
Taraba state is the third largest state in Nigeria with a total landmass of over 54,000 square kilometer which is equivalent to over 5.4 million hectares, this also means that it is possible Taraba state has over 2 million hectares of arable land assuming the remaining portion is covered by, humans, forests, mountains and rivers. Not just landmass, Taraba state is the only state with a diverse agro-climatic condition across the state, with a northern guinea savannah in the north, southern guinea savannah in the south, deeply forested region in the central, and a semi temperate region on the Mambilla plateau. The longest part of river Benue is within the borders of Taraba state. Apart from the river Benue, Taraba has 3 other major navigable rivers that flow all year round which includes river Taraba, river Donga and the river Kashimbila. The total length of river Benue in Taraba is over 300 kilometer while the combine length of the others should be above 200 kilometers which makes a total length of 500 kilometers.
Now, it is very clear that Taraba state has the abundance of arable land, diversity of climatic conditions and abundant fresh water resources. These makes Taraba state a darling for crop production, irrigation, fisheries, livestock production and power supply. It also gives the state an advantage of growing the most diverse crops in the country all year round. For example, Taraba state is the only state in Nigeria growing tea and coffee in Nigeria, also growing Avocado, Cocoa, Kolanut, Ogbono, Palm trees, Banana, Plantain etc. Other arable crops like maize, rice, soyabeans, yams, cassava, sesame, groundnuts, vegetables of all sorts. Taraba is just too blessed to be poor.
Agribusiness is simply the business of agricultural production. It includes agrichemicals, breeding, crop production (farming), distribution, farm machinery, processing, and seed supply, as well as marketing and retail sales. Taraba state has from inception not focused on growing the business of agriculture in the state, despite lots of government intervention from both the State and the Federal government. These has led to crippling and total abandonment of several of such companies that once existed in the state.
Since the inception of the state, there has been no major investment in the agribusiness sector in Taraba state by both government and the private sector. The 1980s saw some level of investments from both government and the private sector which include the Lau Tomato industry in Lau LGA set up by the then Gongola state government, the Abiola Farms Ltd in Dakka, Bali LGA set up by the late MKO Abiola as a fully mechanized farm with full farm infrastructure, silo, warehouses, staff quarters, heavy duty farm machines and later abandoned, Highland Tea Kakara, Sardauna LGA which has the only tea plantation in Nigeria and Tea processing factory established in the 1970s and currently producing, TY Acres in Takum LGA which was a cashew plantation and abandoned, SCOA farms at Korami Mararaban Gassol, Gassol LGA which is a 5,000 hectares to grow soyabeans with a huge warehouse, silo complex and an air strip that is still there till date and later abandoned. Al Hillal Farm was later abandoned due to several crisis. Apart from farms, there was the flour mill in Wukari set in the 1980s which is still standing but abandoned till date. 
Other efforts towards boosting agribusiness in the state was made under the Jolly Nyame administration with the establishment of a fully mechanized rice farm with complete farm machines that includes about 3 combine harvester, several tractors and implements, as well as a rice mill but was later abandoned. After that there were some other farm owners who had huge expanse of land but never developed or developed half way and abandoned such as Dominion Farms. All of these brings to bear the lack of consistency in driving the Agribusiness sector in the state by both the government and the private sector.
In the 1990s, the intervention of the World Bank in establishing the Agricultural Development Programme popularly known as the ADPs saw some level of investment in reaching the rural farmers with extension services, while the state government made efforts in sustaining the Tractor Hiring unit as well as the procurement and distribution of fertilizers. These efforts were commendable but did not go far in changing the agricultural landscape of the state, neither were they able to help the farmers increase their yields, grow their farming business and attract more investments into the sector that will drive large scale productivity and job creation. Today, the rural Taraba farmer has not seen an extension agent in over 20 years, they have not been taught new and improved methods in production, their tools have remain the hoe for a very long time now.
Despite the huge potentials of the state in agriculture, there has been no laid down strategic policy direction that is aimed at taking the Taraba Agribusiness to the next level. No plan on ground to attract and grow local investments in production, processing, export, logistics and marketing of the Taraba Agric product instead of investing in hotels and filling stations. Today, seeds that are being used in Taraba mostly come from Kaduna, Kano or even Adamawa state. There is no seed company in the state producing from Taraba, neither are there seed out-growers or even effort towards raising entrepreneurs in the seed business that will evolve from Taraba and reach other parts of the country. 
Tarabans have continue to remain at the lowest rung of the Agribusiness ladder as mere farmers who do not derive as much value as the other players in the value chain. Tarabans are so at peace with selling raw yams, maize, soyabeans, cocoa, sorghum, groundnuts, paddy rice in truck loads instead of processing and sell that as Proudly Made in Taraba products.
Today, Taraba is among the leading growers of grains such as maize, but there is no Flour mill industry in the state. After Benue state, Taraba state is the second grower of soyabeans, but we also do not have an Oil mill that produce either crude soya oil or refine soya oil, same thing goes for our groundnuts which end up in Kano oil mills. As the rice industry continues to grow in Nigeria with the current support of the Federal government, Taraba has continue to play a role of growers of rice without launching the Taraba Rice brand permeating the Nigerian retail outlets. Tomato is one crop that the state has huge potentials in becoming a leading grower, but since the death of the Lau Tomato industry since Gongola days, nobody has given it a thought to awaken that giant in us to grow and process Taraba tomato and become the leading supplier of tomato paste and puree. This can be said for orange, pineapples for juice concentrates, oil palm for vegetable oils and there derivatives.
Edo state with a total landmass of 17,802 square kilometers and 3.2 million people has two companies Okomu Oil Palm Company and Presco Plc with a combine total of over 72,000 hectares of oil palm plantation. Now 7 local government areas of Taraba state that are oil palm producing areas that includes Ussa, Takum, Donga, Kurmi and Bali have a total land area of 20,618 square kilometers and a combine population of 661,943. This clearly shows that we can do far more than what Edo state is currently doing in oil palm sector.
Taraba state has huge potentials for the development of several plantation crops such as Avocado, Coffee, Cocoa, Citruses, Tea, Oil palm among others. These are potential revenue earners and crops with huge processing opportunities as well as export potentials. Apart from Tea, Cocoa and Oil palm, there is no effort aimed at providing extension and other incentives such as land tenure to enable the production of such perennial crops. Neither are there infrastructure and policies that support investments in those areas from her citizens. Today, Mexico is the leading grower and exporter of Avocado, in 2003 Mexico cultivated about 350,000 hectares yielding 2.5 million tons and employing 40,000 directly, 70,000 seasonal jobs and 180,000 indirect permanent jobs. This only shows the potential we have to ensure that all the Avocado consumed in Nigeria are grown in Taraba state, imagine the value that will bring to the state and her people.
Taraba state has one of the lowest irrigation adoption rate, with majority of her farmers preferring to grow in the rainy season. Taraba state has the potential of becoming the leading grower of rice in the country because it currently has far more potentials than the currently leading states in rice production. A policy direction from government has the capacity in attracting investment in the sector by way of developing irrigation infrastructure such as dams and canals to reduce the cost of using water pumps to irrigate farmlands which leads to higher cost. Also, more irrigation techniques that has the capacity of reducing water utilization especially for row crops and plantations, e.g. citrus need to be adopted. Taraba must begin to think of how we can utilize the billions of liters of water flowing through our rivers to crow both food and cash crops. A 10,000 hectares of citrus sustained on drip irrigation has the capacity of producing high yielding oranges with potentials to sustain thriving fruit juice industries and create a net revenue of N18 billion to the state.
These has been our potentials and even more, but they remain undeveloped. These are sectors that are constitutionally under the powers of the state government and does not require restructuring for us to harness them. Tarabans should be the wealthiest of Nigerians, from our rural areas to our urbans. Poverty, unemployment should not be found among us. There are many Nigerian mouths to feed with foods from Taraba and we can do it.
The time has come for us to refocus and invest heavily in our education and especially the institutions that are responsible for training in agriculture such as the College of Agriculture and the Faculty of Agriculture of Taraba State University. They need to be modernized in order to meet the demands of today. As we look into the future, we need skills that will enable the state to achieve a greater revolution in agribusiness.   
For the state to experience a paradigm shift from the way and manner the agricultural sector is being managed, there is a need for a multi-dimensional approach, which will include Policy direction from government to show Tarabans the way, through the Ministries of agriculture and commerce or trade. This will involve developing each subsector from production to processing to packaging to warehousing to logistics and marketing. For example the government should not be contented with the supply of inputs like fertilizers, tractors alone, but also create incentives for investments in processing of our agricultural produce to finish products by our own citizens. 
Also judging by the past experiences in managing government agricultural investments, it makes no sense for government to continue to set up new agribusiness companies.
Secondly, the government must work to encourage her citizens to invest in these areas. The search for foreign investors right from 1999 to the current administration can only termed as a wild goose chase that has not yet yielded anything. Tarabans, must arise to invest in their communities rather than wait for investor from outside to come and do it for us. We have seen in recent times, investments going to other states only for Taraba to becoming their raw materials sourcing hub which has not helped us thus far. Therefore, government must have a rethink and encourage Tarabans to invest in agribusiness rather than just hotels, filling stations and buying of lands or remaining perpetually as farmers growing for others to process.
Let’s turn the tables now, so that in the future, we all will be glad we did.
Thank you

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